Posts tagged Israelites
There’s something different about Daniel. And I don’t mean the fact that he’s different from the people of Babylon or even that he’s different from his fellow Israelites in exile. What I mean is that there is something different about him as a prophet.
You see, as we read through so many of the other prophetic writings, there was a lot of back and forth in the conversation between God and the prophet. I some cases, the prophet would challenge or question God. “How long before you save your people?” they would ask.
But Daniel has a different relationship with God. It’s not that he doesn’t have questions, it just seems like he knows he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s humble in his approach to God in a way that perhaps some of his predecessors weren’t. Why is that?
Well, perhaps it can just be chalked up to Daniel’s character or his personality, but I wonder how much of it also has to do with the fact that, in the way the people of Israel were conquered and taken captive, God’s objective was met. That objective was to humble the people of Israel and to remind them that he is Lord.
Daniel, obviously humbled, seems to have built his life around the concept that God is Lord and any interaction with him is only by his grace. When Daniel interprets dreams, he is quick to point out that he can only do so because God is interpreting through him. And here, in chapter 9, he lays out his understanding of God’s plan for Israel and asks for mercy:
We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. (Daniel 9:18b)
Yes, Daniel is a vision of a humble prophet – always giving honor to God even when it would have been easy to puff himself up. He understood who held the power, who had the answers and who was able to move heaven and earth for the sake of his people.
What if God’s wrath, judgement and punishment isn’t out of anger, but out of compassion? It occurs to me as I read these passages that the only time God’s people really followed his ways was when they were suffering some kind of persecution or judgement. As soon as things were going good again, the people returned to their un-Godly ways.
And so, it seems that if God wanted his people to live the kind of life they were created to live – to love and serve and seek God – that the best course of action would be to make sure that they were suffering. If he could keep them under heavy persecution or slavery, they would continue to seek them.
Using that logic, then, the times where God rescued his people and set them free were more about giving them a chance to prove that they could live without those kinds of restrictions, rather than the vengeful acts of an angry God. God, in his wisdom, seems to always be pointing us toward his perfect plan. We, in our foolishness, seem to buck against it at every turn.
Who knows where we would be if God protected us from hard times – probably nowhere near where he has created us to be.
They say that those who don’t remember their past are bound to repeat it. I think it could also be said that those who remember the positives from the past have hope of repeating them. Such is the case in Psalm 77.
The song begins with a pretty negative tone:
I cried out to God for help;
I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
at night I stretched out untiring hands,
and I would not be comforted. (Psalm 77:1-2)
The psalmist goes on to write about songs he sang in the past – and pretty miserable songs at that. Then comes the turning point – the revelation that there is more to God than what we can see and that, indeed, God has proven himself time and time again:
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:10-12)
In remembering the past, the psalmist expresses hope for the future and a recognition that God has come through for his people before. At the same time, there is an implied recollection of the fact that the rescue of the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians came only after years of slavery.
In other words, the people of Israel went through the same types of struggles as we find in the first half of Psalm 77 before they could ever experience the kind of joy written about in the second part of the song.
It is no different for us. We long for healing and restoration, for reconciliation and freedom. But healing is preceded by sickness and disease – restoration by brokenness. Reconciliation is preceded by alienation and freedom by slavery and imprisonment. The things we long for are preceded the things we dread.
And it will be that way until God ultimately restores his creation. And so, if you find yourself living out the first half of Psalm 77, just remember, the last half has happened before and it will happen again.
Have you ever set a course, known exactly where you were going and the right way to get there, only to be tripped up along the way when you tried to take a shortcut? It happens to me all the time and it happened to David (and more directly to Uzzah) when the Israelites were returning the ark of the covenant back to its rightful home.
You see, there was nothing wrong with taking the ark back from Kiriath Jearim. That was a great idea! I even think that an accidental touching of the ark might have been forgiven if circumstances had been different. But here’s the thing: God had laid out very specific instructions for the transportation of the ark. The whole time that Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness, setting up and tearing down the tabernacle, the ark was carried in the specified way.
But when David and his men went to recapture the ark and bring it back to Israel, somebody had a bright idea. Work smarter, not harder, right? Instead of carrying the ark all that way on poles, why not just throw it on a cart and roll that bad boy on home? Who could argue that the cart wasn’t a more efficient mode of transportation for the gold-laden ark?
But God had a larger point to make. You see, throughout history, from the very dawn of time, a pattern had emerged among God’s people. Time and time again, things had gone from really good to really bad – from honoring God to defying him – and the common thread that ran through each episode was a singular idea: compromise.
God laid out specific plans for his people, but somewhere along the way, someone said, “Well, surely he won’t mind if we just…” From the serpent telling Eve “you’ll surely not die” to the Israelites in the wilderness who insisted on trying to store up extra manna, to those who decided to adopt some of the worship practices of the nations they conquered, it was the people’s appetite for compromising God’s instructions which eventually led to the downfall of entire civilizations.
This time, God wanted to put an end to the compromise before it started. David’s reign had the potential to change everything for God’s people, but they needed to know that he would not stand for compromise. And so, when they threw that ark up onto a cart and hauled it away, God had to do something. And when one of the oxen stumbled and the cart became unstable, Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark – something he wouldn’t have had to do if they had simply followed God’s instructions for transporting the ark.
God made it very clear to the Israelites that he wouldn’t accept compromise. I think he still makes it clear to us today. As much as we love and embrace the idea of grace, we should equally embrace God’s instructions for our lives. He may not strike us dead for compromising (though he reserves that right), but it is my firm belief that God gives unfathomable blessings to those who follow him closely – those who manage to love and embrace others (as we are commanded to do) while refusing to compromise their faith.
When the Israelites took the ark back home, they were literally taking God’s dwelling place – and his presence – with them. What would happen if you and I purposefully set out to restore God’s dwelling place in our own hearts and minds? And what if we were unwilling to compromise – unwilling to take shortcuts – in preparing that place for him? Perhaps, like Obed-Edom, the Lord will bless our household and everything that we have.
One generation. Only one generation kind of got it right – the one that lived at the end of Moses’ tenure and the beginning of Joshua’s. Remember, the previous generation was denied access to the promised land and forced to roam around in the wilderness until they all died off. And now we read that the children of the “one generation” went off and did exactly what Joshua (and Moses before him) said that they would do.
It only took one generation for the people to completely forget about God. You have to wonder how in the world we can be so self-destructive. Forget about the spiritual side of things for a moment. This was the God who had allowed them to absolutely route some of the largest cities around. This was the God that threw hail stones at their enemies. He was a good friend to have! And yet, within one generation, the people of Israel were looking elsewhere for their inspiration.
Inspiration, it seems, is what we’re all looking for and we’ve become convinced that we can only find it in something brand new. Shiny objects distract and attract us, drawing us away from the tried and true. Like a mosquito flying into a bright light, we are mesmerized by that which is unfamiliar. We are sucked in by the mystery and wonder of it all. Everything else seems boring.
And yet, what we fail so often to realize is that the ultimate mystery and the only truly mesmerizing force in the universe lies “back there” where we came from. Hopefully, as you read along with me, the Holy Spirit is opening up these Scriptures to you and reminding you of the vastness of God and his story. I mean, there’s so much in this book that we should never get bored. If I’m bored by the Bible, it’s because I am a boring reader, not because it’s a boring story.
The Israelites failed to understand that. They got what they wanted from God and moved on. I don’t want to do the same. For you and I, it is imperative that we keep the mystery in front of us, that we recognize the vastness of God and that we allow ourselves, everyday, to be inspired and utterly amazed by him.